Would the World Be Safer Without Religion?

Faith makes people want to kill each other--but it's the best thing we've got.

BY: Gregg Easterbrook


Israelis and Palestinians are killing each other by the hundreds in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Hindus and Muslims are slaughtering each other in India, herding neighbors into house or trains then setting them afire. Catholics and Protestants continue to kill each other in Northern Ireland. Sunnis and Shias have their arms wrapped around each other's throats throughout the Islamic world. And of course, on Sept. 11, 19 Muslims were so determined to murder helpless Christians and Jews that they were willing to die to shed the blood of other religions.

Not a terribly good reflection on faith, is it? If religion makes people want to murder each other, maybe religion is bad for the world.

Religion has certainly been bad for history. In recent decades alone, Hindus and Sikhs have been slaughtering each other, blowing up airliners and firing artillery shells into temples. In the fighting over Sri Lanka, Tamil Hindus have fired machine guns at school buses full of Sinhalese Buddhist children, and the Buddhists in turn have firebombed Hindu schools. Thousands of Chinese grew up as orphans because their Buddhist parents were murdered during World War II at the urging of Shinto priests.

Looking further back, huge numbers of Eastern Orthodox Armenians were murdered by Muslims at the turn of the century. Much of Europe's history has been a nightmare of Christian-on-Christian killing, including the 30 Years' War, in which an estimated 7.5 million people--one-third of the European population at the time--died owing to Catholic-versus-Protestant slaughter. England's history is full of Protestants murdering Catholics; France's history is full of Catholics murdering Protestants; Spain's history is full of Christians murdering Jews. Pretty much all of Europe is to blame for the Crusades, in which Christians murdered Muslims. This inventory could go on at considerable length. King Olaf Tryggvason's declaration from about the year 1000--"all Norway will be Christian or die!"--sums it up.

So is faith bad? The fact that religions preach love, but often generate violence, cannot be dismissed as a minor imperfection.

And if you talk of mere hatred--as opposed to all-out killing--the accounting is even more horrifying. Many faiths and denominations have throughout history dedicated themselves to hating other faiths and denominations. About 100 years ago, to cite one of many examples, Protestant denominations called the Pope the Whore of Babylon, while Pope Leo XIII declared Protestants "enemies of the Christian name." Sunnis and Shias have been denouncing each other since just a few years after the Prophet Muhammad died. The Eastern Orthodox church has in its past denounced Catholicism as a false religion. In 1997, a small group called the Union of Orthodox Rabbis declared that the Conservative and Reform movements of Judaism are "not Judaism at all." Intrigue among Buddhist and Shinto sects have led to much violence.

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